Feminist Films?

Some arguments are impossible to win. Like the one I had with my friend Jen last Summer. We were arguing about some fine gender political point. I can’t remember what fine gender political point exactly. But I can remember the killer line. “You’re a guy, so how would you know?”

Friends who know me better might question Jen’s killer line. I remember leaving a Wellington Hall vicars and tarts party distressed because the Hall’s resident impregnator was looking increasingly interested in impregnating me. My friend Thomas, lesbian-straightener extraordinaire, thought I was a lesbian waiting to be straightened until he spoke to me. The woman I am dating tells me I am “an honorary girl.” But according to Jen the fact that deep down in my trousers I am male means that deep down in my psyche I must be a misogynist. All men are misogynists. It’s biological.

Ridley Scott is often called a feminist. He gave us Ripley, action woman in an era when action women didn’t exist. He gave us Thelma and Louise. Now he gives us GI Jane. And his feminist credentials come tumbling down.

Kevin Smith, on the other hand, will never be called a feminist. His films are too full of dick jokes and misogynous males. It is ironic then that his latest, the outrageously foul-mouthed Chasing Amy, crammed full of dick jokes and misogynous males as it is, should be so much less offensive than Scott’s film.

GI Jane stars Demi Moore as the eponymous GI. A group of feminists takes the US government to court because of its refusal to allow women into the marines. The court suggests that a trial candidate be found. Moore is picked. Because she doesn’t look like a lesbian. The film then follows her through ten weeks of hell on earth as she takes on the intensive training programme necessary for GI-hood: a nightmarish routine of mud and mayhem made all the more unbearable by the he-man hostility of all those around her.

There’s a cliche that you have to be twice as good to succeed as a woman. Perhaps it’s a truth. But the chances of a woman being twice as strong as a man are slim, to say the least. Moore of course proves to be just that. She shuns the concessions made to her and toughs it out along with the rest of the boys. But then, just as she’s beginning to earn their respect, the powers-that-don’t-want-her-to-be suggest she’s a lesbian. Moore the marine is no more.

But this demonisation of lesbianism is not the reason for the film’s offensiveness. Lesbians probably would be demonised by the marines. The film is so offensive because it is so simplistic, so dishonest. It suggests that as long as Moore becomes a man, she will succeed. It suggests that this gender change is desirable. Perhaps even more disturbingly, it suggests that it is possible. “Suck my dick,” Moore screams, after a particularly brutal near-rape scene. A near-rape scene which is necessary according to the logic of the film’s plot. But a near-rape scene which cannot become a real-rape scene, because although this would be far more plausible, it would destroy the essentially positive tone of the story. GI Jane offends because it is sensationalist and yet safe. It pretends to confront important issues, indeed its sole raison d’etre is to confront important issues, but ultimately it is too scared to say what it needs to say. What emerges is an empty and unnecessary, emptily and unnecessarily brutal and boring film.

Chasing Amy

In Chasing Amy, Ben Affleck and Jason Lee play best buddy cartoonists whose stable repressed homosexual relationship is threatened when one of them falls in love with a decidedly different type of women. Jealousies ensue. Insecurities emerge. These lead to further jealousies. Which in turn uncover further insecurities.

The third installment in Kevin Smith’s soon-to-be four-part ‘New Jersey’ trilogy, the film would be better titled Chasing a Myth or Chasing a Me. Like Smith’s earlier films, it explores and explodes gender stereotypes. But like his earlier films, it is also extremely funny. Perhaps not quite as funny as Clerks. But certainly funnier than Mall Rats.

The film is defiantly un-pc. But beneath its un-pc surface is a clever, questioning core. If the film has a flaw, then it is that occasionally the cleverness seems forced. Sometimes the dialogue sounds like it has been stolen straight from a feminist reader. Fortunately, every time Chasing Amy looks like it is starting to get bogged down in overearnestness, it redeems itself with a gag that would Roy Chubby Brown blush.

A feminist film then? Unexpectedly, yes. I may be wrong though. After all, I am a man.

Clive Johnson

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